Battlefield: Bad Company 2

Bringing down the beta house.

Jumping from Modern Warfare 2 to Bad Company 2 isn't recommended. While both are broadly similar in concept - modern military shooters set in an imaginary land war between America and Russia - the difference in style couldn't be more pronounced. Infinity Ward's big-bollocked blockbuster has the bone-rattling volume and GRAAAAAGH KILLING SPREE! adrenaline rush, but try those bombastic Hollywood heroics over in DICE's theatre of war and you'll be shot to ribbons before you can say "danger close".

Currently titillating PS3 owners with an exclusive multiplayer beta, a whopping four months from release, Battlefield looks set to continue its conquest of the middle ground between Call of Duty's crowd-pleasing mayhem and Operation Flashpoint's brutal realism. Even more than its predecessor, which marked the series' debut on consoles, Bad Company 2 is undeniably part of the PC lineage. This is smart, savage war-gaming, where a cool head and a steady hand are rewarded over grenade-spamming and shooting from the hip.

The beta is virtually identical to the one that heralded the first Bad Company game. Rush is the game mode, and it sets out the game's stall in convincing style. The attacking team must push into enemy territory and destroy two communication arrays. The defenders must stop them. Whenever both arrays are destroyed, the defenders must fall back to the next section of the map. Victory for the attackers comes when there's nowhere left to run, while the defenders benefit from infinite respawns and must whittle down the enemy tickets until they're forced to withdraw.

The map that plays host to this blood-soaked push and pull is Arica Harbor. A sun-baked shantytown on the edge of a dazzling blue sea, it's a sprawling play area that offers opportunities for every style of play without ever feeling like you're being herded into simplistic stand-offs. Open desert plains give way to a multi-tiered cluster of houses and derelict towers as the attackers advance, culminating in a last stand at the docks themselves, where trashed cargo containers provide makeshift cover.

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Draw!

The sand-blasted environments have been shorn of anything not directly connected to combat - identical burned-out car shells offer the only hint that people may once have lived normal lives in this parched hellhole - but it still feels convincing thanks to some lovely ambient effects. Light and sound play a big part in the game, while the sweeping banks of smoke and dust add to the atmosphere without choking the gameplay.

Variety is the cornerstone of Battlefield, and Bad Company 2 isn't about to deviate from that ethos. There are four character classes - Assault, Engineer, Recon and Medic - and each offers its own expanding loadouts of guns, gadgets and secondary items. The longer you play, the more you can tweak your arsenal to your taste.

The stats screen, meanwhile, hints at what lies in store next year. Tanks, APCs, quad bikes and helicopters are all in the beta, but as yet there's no sign of the aquatic vehicles you'll be able to commandeer. As always where DICE is concerned, if you find yourself getting hammered doing one thing, it's incredibly easy to try something else instead.

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